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Life Happens The adventures of Nora Dunn & Kelly Bedford, Professional Hobos. Nora writes, Kelly makes music. Together, we are on a lifelong journey to...wherever.

Royal Flying Doctors to the Rescue!

AUSTRALIA | Thursday, 10 July 2008 | Views [3497]

No, for once, this isn’t a story about Kelly needing medical assistance (as he did in Thailand   and Hawaii)!

No, instead, this is about an incredible tour we did of the Royal Flying Doctor Base in Broken Hill.

Australia is big. Really big. And although Broken Hill is known as the “accessible outback”, most of the outback isn’t so easy to get to and through. So when a medical emergency strikes, there aren’t many options. Until John Flynn entered the scene in the early 1900s, the options were either to survive or die. No outside help would be forthcoming.

But John Flynn, a visionary who was distraught that the outback’s 2 million square kilometers was serviced by just two doctors, saw possibilities. Against odds and criticism, he set up a program with radio alerts, a little canvas plane, and medical supply boxes that changed the face of medicine in rural Australia.

The programmed blossomed from its start in 1928 to now: with 22 bases across the country, medical help is never more than 2 hours away, no matter how remote you are. These 22 bases serve a chunk of land larger than Western Europe.

The program has two components: medical clinics (with a focus on prevention), and emergency service. So not only can the RFDS help travelers and residents in the outback who are in need of emergency assistance, but the communities throughout the country are empowered with their own medical kits and regular clinics to prevent people from becoming ill or injured in the first place.

We had a chance to chat with some of the employees at the base, and we even were so lucky as to get a peek inside the emergency services plane and speak with two emergency nurses. Stories of adventure and courage were plentiful, and we could tell that there is a strong bond among employees at the base peppered with lots of humor and fun.

“I couldn’t imagine going back to working for a living,” said Brendan, of his career as an emergency nurse. “Sure, you’re alone in the back of a metal tube at 20,000 feet providing medical care. It can be tough at times. But the view is incredible,” he said.

When asked about interesting experiences, Brendan cited one particular time when he was called out to a patient in need who was at least 150kms from the nearest…anything. But when he arrived, there were lots of people milling about, lights set up, and blankets being brought out for the patient.

When he asked where all these people came from, he received a variety of responses along the lines of having heard the call for help over the radio waves and hopping in the car to drive 100kms to see what they could do.

He realized then and there that even though the outback is remote and distances are far, people are willing to help, and the distance in a sense creates closeness.

To be a nurse or doctor for the RFDS is quite an accolade for the resume. A laundry list of qualifications and working history is required in order to be accepted into the program, since once you are out there in the middle of nowhere, it’s just you and the patient. You have to know how to help, regardless of the problem.

There are two things that really blew us away about the program:

1) All services provided by the Flying Doctor are free.

2) RFDS relies on the government and public donations to remain viable. Government funding takes care of the medicine, wages and administrative costs. The rest (which is donated and fundraised) pays for the planes, mechanical service, and pretty much everything else. And planes ain’t cheap to keep in the air.

This program and invaluable service really struck a chord with us, and we hope it does with you too. If you want more information on the program, or wish to make a donation, please visit www.flyingdoctors.org.au.

Tags: ambassador van, australia, broken hill, outback, royal flying doctors service, world nomads

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